Move to shared services will make it easier for government employees to do their jobs, resulting in better services to citizens: CIO

OTTAWA – After years of focusing on developing online access to applications, the federal government has finally realized superior service to citizens starts with superior service to itself. Ken Cochrane, CIO of the Treasury Board Secretariat, said in his opening keynote at GTEC 2006 IT management excellence is gaining “increasing attention” from the government’s political overlords. “We know when employees find it easy to access internal services, when employees find it easy to operate a working government . . . this leads to higher employee satisfaction, which is natural,” he said. Happier government employees, in turn, provide better services to citizens, said Cochrane, who held a senior position in Public Works and Government Services prior to becoming federal CIO. He said government departments must act as one in the future, rather than the 100 or so silos they currently comprise. Acting as one means following consistent best practices, using the same definitions of data, using existing citizen service centres instead of building new ones and letting departments with mature service offerings provide services to other departments – but it doesn’t mean operating as one, he said.

Cochrane’s team recently completed his 100-day project to determine whether IT is on the right track in government. He found those surveyed want the federal CIO to keep closer tabs on initiatives that tend to drift, and to improve integration of CIOB services. Respondents also want his office to get a better grip on how policy directives affect their departments, and for the CIOB to become more of a partner to departments and agencies in their IT efforts, rather than just play devil’s advocate, or “challenger,” as he put it. “The CIOB is going to act as a catalyst,” he said. “We’re trying to be as open and transparent as possible. There has to be more sharing and more common solutions, because at the end of the day, that’s what citizens expect.”

Citizens also expect an agile, efficient public sector that doesn’t cost a fortune to maintain, said Steve Poole, CEO of Public Works and Government Services Canada’s IT services branch. Poole, who outlined the progress of PWSGC’s shared services initiative, said the federal government spends about $5 billion a year on IT. The federal government has on its payroll some 16,000 IT professionals. It supports more than 100 data centres and hundreds of desktops images, as well as many different operating systems. “The way we’re doing it is not sustainable in the long run,” he said. “We have an aging IT infrastructure that requires investment and we have an aging workforce of baby boomers.”

The solution, he said, was to take the same enterprise-wide approach to IT that all large, successful private sector organizations embrace. Poole said a whole-of-government approach can drive efficiencies from $300 million to $500 million a year through IT infrastructure consolidation.

“Think about where we have multiple partners in the same building, each with their own dedicated network cabling, with their own LAN, desktops and standards,” he said. “Some departments even have multiple standards within the same department.”

The average department dedicates 15 to 20 per cent of its operating budget to IT, he said. “That’s a big drain on the department’s management focus. Departments should be able to focus on their core business without a second thought to the IT infrastructure.”

While Poole’s shared services organization provides the lion’s share of its services to PWSGC, it expects the percentage of services supplied to other departments will increase over the next five to seven years. It already supplies services to Health Canada, Transport Canada, Service Canada and a host of other departments and agencies. But it’s still functioning more as a service bureau than as a shared service, he added. The private sector, which has been vocal in its opposition to PWGSC’s procurement reforms, has a major role to play in enabling the government’s shared services vision, said Poole. “PWGSC has about $1.5 billion in multiyear contracts active. Almost half is for consulting but sizeable amounts are for data centres and engineering,” he said. “There is a vital role in the IT industry in making the government’s IT shared services initiative successful.”

Departmental CIOs, some of whom might wonder where they fit in this new world order, also still have jobs, he added. “Department CIOs have a vital role – they need to bring technology alignment to the business lines of their department and have a strong business program relationship capability,” said Poole. “They must ensure the right IT governance exists inside their department, they must be knowledgeable buyers and service brokers, and they must be able to build and operate unique applications for their department’s programs. This is no different from any private sector CIO’s role.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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